Day Three (Jan. 20) – An Agency Filled Afternoon
by Gabriell Vires -- January 20th, 2011
After a fish-filled morning, we ventured from the tuna auction over to the NOAA offices to meet with a line-up of wonderful people!
After a fish-filled morning, we ventured from the tuna auction over to the NOAA offices to meet with a line-up of wonderful people. I must preface this blog by saying that everyone we met with in the PIRO (Pacific Islands Regional Office) office was absolutely wonderful and informative! They spoke to us about many of the different measures NOAA is taking to deal with marine resources from reducing false killer whale takes in longline fisheries, to potentially listing 82 species of coral, to incorporating climate change impacts into protected species management plans. Several of them are Duke Alumni and, having been in our shoes, spoke a little about how they got where they are today. For that, I cannot thank them enough.
After a yummy lunch of an amazing tofu salad and edamame, we met with Charles “Honey Badger” Littnan to discuss the plight of monk sealsin both the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) and the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). This was the person that I was the most interested in talking to and listening to today; mainly due to the fact that Galapagos Sharks off of French Frigate Shoals are sometimes removed (i.e. killed) to prevent predation on newly born monk seal pups. When I learned about this predator reduction in my marine mammal class, I was utterly appalled and quite heated. Although I did some additional research, I still didn’t fully understand the intricacies of the framework with which NOAA could do this and was looking forward to hearing what Charles had to say about it.
I must admit that Charles is one funny and entertaining person to listen too. He really knows what he’s talking about and genuinely thinks about every aspect involved when making decisions or taking action. With that said, I commend him—I certainly don’t want his job! Charles enlightened the class not only about the difficulties about being in charge of monk seal research, but also to the next steps that they could potentially take to save these marine mammals. We had a lengthy discussion during break about monk seal poop and its contents. It was definitely, er, interesting to say the least. I was quite happy to hear that he didn’t particularly like eradicating “problem” Galapagos sharks and that research was being conducted to determine whether this predation was an overall population issue or just a subset of the population. While I don’t like the idea that sharks are being killed, it’s comforting in a sense to know that research is being done and sharks aren’t being killed unjustly.
He also told us a little bit about the next potential steps NOAA is taking to ensure that the monk seal populations don’t go extinct. One of these was potential translocation. An important thing to note is that there are monk seals in the NWHI (~950 individuals) and in the MHI (~160). Monk seals in the NWHI are declining 4% annually while monk seals in the MHI are increasing 7% annually and the first two-three years of their life is crucial to survival. Essentially what would happen is weaned monk seal pups would be moved from NWHI to MHI for the first three years of their life to get “fat and happy” before being potentially moved back to NWHI. Sounds great in theory but we’ll just have to see how it goes when implemented.
After Charles’ talk, we thanked him and parted ways back to U of H. After a tasty dinner of a falafel pita with hummus and a Greek salad, we ended the night with yummy Yogurtland. Is anyone else noticing a habit forming??? It’s a good thing we head off to Midway tomorrow afternoon! It is definitely thrilling and exciting to finally be heading to Midway. With that I will bid you adieu until Midway!